Monday, April 14, 2008

Review roundup

It's been a while, so I have a lot of reviews to catch up on!

South Pacific
One doesn't have to be a cockeyed optimist to think, going into this revival of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic, not seen on Broadway in more than six decades, that it would be lovely. Just the promise of the now-too-rare full orchestra playing the overture is enough to guarantee that. Fortunately, Lincoln Center's revival, headed by Bartlett Sher, is much more than that. Great leads: Just try to resist that lump in the throat while Paulo Szot sings "This Nearly Was Mine," and Kelli O'Hara is wonderfully understated as self-described hick Nellie Forbush. Even greater supporting cast: Danny Burstein seems to channel a wacky Hanna-Barbera sidekick--in a good way--to his Luther Billis, and Loretta Ables Sayre makes a smashing debut as the ambitious Bloody Mary. Sure, the show is dated, drags in quite a few places and is almost ridiculous in the number of reprises. Still, this revival is no dusty time capsule. Without any attempts of updating or misguided parallels to the present, the piece itself remains relevant, particularly in a time when nightly news reminds us just how many people are still "carefully taught."

The Four of Us
Playwright Itamar Moses certainly found a way to shut me up. I had a couple of key criticisms about his latest, "The Four of Us," now being put on by Manhattan Theatre Club at New York City Center Stage II, and in a sudden, last-minute postmodern moment, he had his actors make those exact criticisms for me. Touche, Mr. Moses! It might beg the question of why you didn't just fix them, but no matter. In all, "The Four of Us" is an enjoyable if sometimes pedantic of two budding writers, one finding sudden success and the other finding sudden jealousy. Gideon Banner and Michael Esper are winning as the two writers playing out the non-chronological vignettes that shape the writers' imbalanced friendship. And scenic designer David Zinn makes great use of the small stage space, with an Alice-In-Wonderland-like wall of doors that open to reveal small set pieces to indicate different locales.

That's right, I wrote out the title. The curse seems to have lost its charm, because this production of Shakespeare's most accessible yet trickiest tragedy is actually -- gasp -- good. Director Rupert Goold moves the action to an underground bunker in a decidedly Russian setting, although all references to Scotland remain intact. Patrick Stewart is equal parts tortured, terrifying and pathetic as the power-hungry anti-hero. Kate Fleetwood makes a dazzling debut as his lady, a steely, sexy devil-on-the-shoulder. And special standout honors go to Tim Treloar, who manages to flesh out the amorphous character of Ross into something memorable. Yeah, there are a few odd choices. Like why does Banquo get up and walk offstage after he is murdered? And do we really need to see the porter urinate into the sink? But overall, it's a production well-deserving of the critical praise it has received.


Victor said...

It is surprising to me that this is the first ever Broadway revival of South Pacific.

We had a revival in Sydney about 10 years ago with the American Paige O'Hara (I think) as Nellie. She was very good.

Unfortunately the male lead was played a Canadian (name not recalled) tenor of the Jose Carreras mould and his voice simply was not right for the role of Emile.

Mike said...

No, a tenor definitely wouldn't work. Would have loved to have seen Paige O'Hara in it, though!

Popcultureboy said...

I didn't mind that particular piece of staging in Macbeth and I thought it was echoed nicely by the dual staging of the ghostly dinner party return on either side of the intermission.

For me, the one big "what were you thinking?" moment was having the "hubble bubble toil and trouble" speech delivered as a rap. I sat there thinking "You're witches, you're not the Pussycat Dolls". Other than that, an absolutely incredible production.

Victor said...

Mike - yes, Paige was excellent.

Mike said...

Yes, the rap was pretty silly.

I think the Banquo thing wouldn't have bothered if they hadn't made a big production of dragging -- um, what's-his-face, the last guy Macbeth kills -- offstage after his death.